Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), the founder of "mesmerism",
believed that he and others
manipulating a force akin to magnetism when they put people into
healing trances. However, since the early 19th century it has become
increasingly clear that any "power" resides in the person who is
hypnotized. The hypnotist uses techniques to influence another person
into particular mental states, but the hypnotized person is the one who
produces the state. How easily, and to what extent, someone can be
hypnotized has been shown to be a stable trait across repeated trials,
having little to do with who hypnotizes the person and how. This is why
it's easy to learn to hypnotize yourself, and why you can be hypnotized
using audio recordings.
Of course, because hypnotists do use techniques to
help people to reach the hypnotic state, some will be better at using
those techniques than others, just as some people are better public
speakers or better salespeople.
Myth #2: The hypnotist controls the person who is hypnotized,
has no independent
The idea of the hypnotist "controlling" the hypnotized person
makes for a good story and a good show, which is why you will hear
about it from stage
hypnotists (particularly the less ethical ones) and ill-informed
Hollywood scriptwriters. There is no foundation for
it in fact, though. An unethical hypnotist might manipulate or fool
into doing something that they didn't realize was inappropriate or
against their deeply held beliefs, but a clearly presented and clearly
understood instruction to do something obviously dangerous or wrong
will have one of two outcomes: the hypnotized person will come fully
alert, or will simply ignore the suggestion.
Myth #3: Hypnosis is a strange and unusual state
There's actually nothing very unusual about hypnosis and we go into
similar states every day, we just don't realize it (or make use of
them). Zoning out in front of TV, daydreaming, "highway hypnosis" on a
long drive, the not-quite-awake, not-quite-asleep state that you pass
through on the way into and out of sleep on a daily basis... all of
these are very similar to hypnosis. People sometimes expect it to "feel
different" in some undefined way and think that they haven't been
hypnotized if they don't feel anything they haven't felt before, but
it's not necessarily so.
Myth #4: You won't remember anything afterwards
Most people do remember what happened while they were hypnotized. A few
people do forget spontaneously, and others will "forget" if instructed
to do so, but even when they do, the memory can be recovered later. The
memory isn't actually gone, it's just been put where the conscious mind
doesn't have current access to it. The usual experience, though, is
that you remember what went on.
Myth #5: Hypnosis can give you abilities you don't normally
This isn't entirely a myth in one sense; the whole point of hypnosis is
to enable you to do things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do.
However, in every instance so far tested, these are things that you
could actually do in your usual waking state, but perhaps not as
effectively or as easily. Because hypnosis involves selective
attention, parts of your mind which are normally used for paying
attention in general can be used for paying very close attention to one
thing in particular, and this can look like having unusual powers. For
example, a very old trick (which can be done without hypnosis as well)
is identifying one of a number of "identical" cards from their backs.
Because they actually have tiny visible differences, people can tell
them apart in a way that seems like extrasensory perception, but is
just ordinary sensory perception operating at high levels of
Myth #6: Hypnosis is occult and a devout religious person
This is normally argued in two ways: first, that hypnosis involves another person
taking over your God-given free will, and second, that it involves occult powers.
If I haven't already disposed of this by what I've said above: there is
no evidence at all that hypnosis is anything but a natural, inherent
human ability, which everyone has and which doesn't involve any
mysterious powers or occult forces. Nor does it take away free will or place your will under someone else's control. Most major religions have no issue
with it providing it is used ethically, and the Roman Catholic Church,
for one, has been saying so officially since 1847. (I realize that mentioning the Catholic Church's approval is a counter-recommendation for some people,
but most of these same people are unlikely to change their minds about hypnosis whatever I say.)
For more information, see Hypnosis
and Faith, a website maintained by an Eastern Orthodox priest and hypnotherapist.
Sometimes the argument is made by association - shamans, witch-doctors and other such healers use trances, this argument goes,
so the use of trance is inherently pagan. Leaving aside the fact that various brands of faith-healing and revivalism also use trances
(and induce them very much the same way), this "argument by association" could be used against any form of healing or, in fact, human
behavior ever known. Hypnotherapy is a natural technique with no inherent religious content.
Myth #7: There is no evidence that hypnosis works or that it is therapeutic
Some skeptics categorize hypnosis along with other
therapies, as unproven at best. However, brain scan studies make it
clear that, for some people at least, genuine changes are occurring in
the brain as a consequence of hypnosis. See How Hypnotherapy
Works, on this site, for further references.
See also What
Hypnotherapy is Good For
for an extensive set of references to scientific studies published in
reputable journals which show that hypnotherapy is effective for a
number of conditions and for behaviour change. The website Hypnosis and Suggestion is an even more comprehensive resource.
Myth #8: You can get "stuck" in hypnosis
You can no more get "stuck" in hypnosis than you can get "stuck" awake
or "stuck" asleep. It's a natural state which naturally gives way to
other states after a while. For practical reasons, most hypnotherapists
do explicitly end their clients' trances, but if they didn't the
clients would naturally either return to full alertness or fall asleep.
Myth #9: Many people can't be hypnotized
Actually, since hypnosis is a natural state and an inherent human
ability, anyone who can understand simple instructions and concentrate
adequately can be hypnotized, provided that they trust the hypnotist
and the hypnotist uses a technique that is appropriate for them.
The practical fact (which leads to the myth) is that not all hypnotists
can hypnotize all subjects, and some people will be hypnotized much
more readily than others, all else being equal. Also, as mentioned
above, hypnotizability is a trait - some people are "highly
hypnotizable" and can make more use of the state than others. This
tends to be more important in laboratories than in therapy, as most
therapeutic uses of hypnosis don't depend on hypnotic "depth". The main
exception is pain control, which does require a somewhat deeper trance
for the most useful results to be seen. This is an important reason why
chemical anaesthetics, at least one of which will work for practically
any patient, are used in preference to hypnosis for surgery - not
because nobody can have painless drug-free surgery under hypnosis, but
because not everybody can.
Myth #10: Weak-willed people are easier to hypnotize
This myth may have arisen in the days of the "authoritarian" hypnotist
who worked mainly by ordering people around. People who were likely to
resent being ordered around were less likely to experience success
through this method. That's not how it's done these days, though, and
the strength of your will really has nothing to do with how easy you
are to hypnotize. Rather, if you are intelligent and imaginative and
have a good ability to concentrate, these are the factors which will
help with the hypnosis. Being open-minded (which is different from
being weak-willed) is definitely a plus, too.